Juno-winning artist Elisapie ‘thrilled’ Inuktitut album is bringing connection with Indigenous languages

Immersing the audience in songs they already love, in an ancient language creates curiosity and alliances she says.


'I think merging those worlds is just natural for me,' says Elisapie about her album Inuktitut. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN.

From the depths of the National Arts Centre, commonly called the NAC in Ottawa, trilingual artist, Elisapie, skips up the steps and into a quiet hallway for her interview with APTN News.

Spotting the camera crew, she smiles, and says, “Hi, I’m here.”

The 46-year-old is currently on tour playing cities in North America before heading overseas.

“Even here at the National Arts Centre, we are in places where it’s celebrating cultures,” she says. “I think it’s also a reminder everywhere we go.”

In 2023, the Inuk artist released Inuktitut, an album of 10 popular songs by artists including the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Led Zepplin and Queen. All of the songs are in Inuktitut – her first language.

On an evening at the end of March, in the Azrieli Studio – a 300-seat hall in the NAC, the ambient sound of a fire crackling set the tone for an immersive audio-visual experience.

The show starts with Taimangalimaaq the cover of Cyndi Lauper’s, Time After Time followed by a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, Sinnatuumait.

Before transitioning into her original work, the stage lights darken and the audience is left in complete darkness with only a boom box reciting a narrative in Inuktitut.

People at the sold-out show sit holding hands and swaying with the music.

“I think that’s so beautiful we really do understand that people are sensitive to Indigenous issues [and] they care,” she says. “I think we just need a little bit more representation.”

Elisapie performing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in March. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN.

Elisapie says language is not just a means of communication, but a gateway to storytelling and emotional expression.

“I’m really thrilled to know that people are able to find, maybe, that sense of belonging to a connection to Indigenous language or even narrative or story and bringing it to their memories,” she says.

“If it’s in people’s houses and being listened to by all people.”

Elisapie was the sole Inuk nominee for Contemporary Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year at the 2024 Juno Awards. Other nominees in the category included Aysanabee, Blue Moon Marquee, Shawnee Kish and Zoon.

“I’m just so proud knowing that we were all there to celebrate each other. I felt like there was not one winner, but we were all winners anyway because we saw a lot of us,” says Elisapie.

While accepting the award, Elisapie thanked her fellow nominees, friends, family and colleagues and dedicated the album to her family in Salluit, Nunavik – the Inuit territory is sub-Arctic Que.

That included her uncles who formed the band Sugluk, an Inuit rock and roll band active through the 1970s and ’80s.

“They pretty much formed me and made me who I am,” she said. “It’s really through their music and their eyes that I was able to dream and also allow myself to push beyond.”

Each track on her album Inuktitut is inspired by a person or memory from her past, reflecting the kinship she has to her culture and the significance of preserving Indigenous languages through music.

“For me, it’s always an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate my uncles, my hometown and of course seeing my team who have been behind this album, behind my project, really taking care of every little detail to really make sure that my storytelling gets across. It was just really nice to celebrate it with them.”

Elisapie says she was charmed by how many people love hearing songs they know in Inuktitut.

“Something like this makes me feel good so that’s how it started. Listening to ABBA hearing Blondie and realizing, ‘Okay I need to do this. It’s right now.’ I realized I shed a lot of tears, and they were very deep tears, deep cries.”

By adapting popular songs into Inuktitut, Elisapie’s music becomes a bridge between different worlds, merging contemporary sounds with her ancient language in a seamless blend.

“I love it. It gives me a thrill actually, because it’s finally also making people aware that we too were part of these songs. We too wanted change. We too wanted to dance. We are free to love anything contemporary. I think merging those worlds is just natural for me.”

‘You know we were nomads not so long ago, so these songs really became our safe places for our emotions and Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie and Queen, they were our friends when we needed them most,’ says Elisapie. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN.

Inuktitut is the fourth solo album from Elisapie whose last release, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, was nominated for Indigenous Album of the Year at the 2019 Juno Awards and shortlisted for the 2019 Polaris Prize.

“I’m a happy hopeful person but I’m also very connected to the past and it’s something that I usually use as a way to create,” she said.

“For me the past is very much present, and the present is very much pushed by the people before us so I think we must just acknowledge that, and I celebrate that.”

In addition to her win this year, Elisapie was also nominated for Album Artwork of the Year for Inuktitut’s cover art.

“Certain songs brought back really pointed memories and started taking on special meaning for me,” said Elisapie.

She chose the songs to include on the album based on the tracks that resonated with her youth.

“We love Cyndi Lauper as much as anybody in Canada, so I think it’s just a little bit of a statement in a sense. I’m really thrilled to know that people are able to find maybe that sense of belonging; a connection to Indigenous language and bringing it to their memories.

“I realize okay, they do tell a story. Not only a story but they tell moments that I remember that were triggered by these songs. Some sad times, some beautiful colours of spring in the north.”

According to the singer, adapting these works into Inuktitut became an act of healing, a personal and emotional project meant to offer the songs back to her community as a gift.

“I had to tell the story of that era. You know we were nomads not so long ago, so these songs really became our safe places for our emotions and Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie and Queen, they were our friends when we needed them most.”

Elisapie is now touring France and Belgium for the month of April returning to Canadian shows at the beginning of May. According to Spotify, she has 103,000 monthly subscribers and her new record has charted in Canada, France, Spain and Brazil.

Fans can expect the tour for Inuktitut to continue into December 2024 with shows across Canada. She’s back in Ottawa on June 25 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

“I’m starting to write new songs, it’s time for a new album that is not a cover songs. I’m working on our celebration, Indigenous celebration that I produce for  Quebec TV. We’re really excited to have a bunch of great artists, I can’t say their names yet, and so many more projects also coming up.”

Through her music, Elisapie invites us to embrace the beauty of diversity and celebrate the rich tapestry of the voices that make up our world.

Contribute Button